Better sleep for a more productive day

We all need more sleep. About 35% of people in the UK get less than seven hours a night, which could put them at risk of damage to physical and mental health.

It’s affecting our work too: about 200,000 working days are lost a year due to absenteeism caused by lack of sleep.

So, the key to getting your productivity back on track – especially with all the changes and disruption brought about by the Coronavirus lock-down – might be to draw the curtains, switch off your devices and have a long snooze. Here’s how to build some better sleep habits that will leave you sharper and more focused for your work.

Make sleep a priority

Ensuring that you get a really good night’s kip starts with planning your work day. Working late is an enemy of sleep: it leaves you with less time and makes it hard to switch off. Planning your workload to ensure you leave the office (or your spare room desk!) on time is the first step to a restful night.

“If you start the day with a plan, and then prioritize your work according to that plan, you have a much sounder structure to support your bid to keep your workday from crowding out a good night of sleep,” says Christopher M. Barnes, an associate professor of management who has advised the air force on countering fatigue.

Get sunlight in the morning

Our natural cycle of sleep and waking is regulated by the sun. So, making sure you get enough natural light in the day and that your evenings aren’t brightly and artificially lit can make a big difference to how quickly and easily you nod off. Taking a morning walk can be a key part of your sleep routine.

“Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as night-time sleep quality and duration,” says Rudy Mawer on the blog.

Stick to a routine

We’re built to follow a regular pattern of sleeping and waking, but many of us tear-up the schedule on weekends and holidays. Maintaining “sleep stability”, as the experts call it, can make deep, refreshing sleep easier to come by.

“Staying up later on Friday or sleeping in on Saturday sends the brain an entirely new set of scheduling priorities, so by Monday, a 6 a.m. alarm may feel like 4 a.m,” says Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times. “It’s tough, but stick to your good sleep habits, even on the weekends.”

Get active

Regular exercise has more impact on getting good sleep than almost any other treatment available. Studies found that after four months of consistent exercise, people could increase their sleep by up to 1.25 hours a night.

“If you’re not a regular exerciser and you’re looking for a way to improve your sleep, starting a routine of moderate physical activity is a great strategy. Just keep in mind that the effect may happen gradually, not all at once,” says Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist who writes as The Sleep Doctor.

Save the bedroom for sleeping

Keeping mobile devices and your Netflix binges out of the bedroom will help cue your body to get ready for sleep when you head for bed. And if you’re lying awake in bed at night? It’s best to get up until you’re sleepy again, experts say.

“Sleep specialists have established that staying in bed while you’re anxious or not sleeping is one of the most common contributors to chronic insomnia, because it trains the brain and creates bad associations,” says Henry Nicholls, author of Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest.